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The Souls of Black Folk
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W.E.B. Du Bois was the foremost black intellectual of his time. The Souls of Black Folk (1903), his most influential work, is a collection of fourteen beautifully written essays, by turns lyrical, historical, and autobiographical. Here, Du Bois records the cruelties of racism, celebrates the strength and pride of black America, and explores the paradoxical "double-consciousness" of African-American life. "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line," he writes, prophesying the struggle for freedom that became his life's work.

For the first time, the authoritative editions of works by major American novelists, poets, scholars, and essayists collected in the hardcover volumes of The Library of America are being published singly in a series of handsome and durable paperback books. A distinguished author has contributed an introduction for each volume, which also includes a detailed chronology of the author's life and career, an essay on the choice of the text, and notes.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) is the greatest of African American intellectuals--a sociologist, historian, novelist, and activist whose astounding career spanned the nation's history from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. Born in Massachusetts and educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, Du Bois penned his epochal masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk, in 1903. It remains his most studied and popular work; its insights into Negro life at the turn of the 20th century still ring true.

With a dash of the Victorian and Enlightenment influences that peppered his impassioned yet formal prose, the book's largely autobiographical chapters take the reader through the momentous and moody maze of Afro-American life after the Emancipation Proclamation: from poverty, the neoslavery of the sharecropper, illiteracy, miseducation, and lynching, to the heights of humanity reached by the spiritual "sorrow songs" that birthed gospel and the blues. The most memorable passages are contained in "On Booker T. Washington and Others," where Du Bois criticizes his famous contemporary's rejection of higher education and accommodationist stance toward white racism: "Mr. Washington's programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races," he writes, further complaining that Washington's thinking "withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens." The capstone of The Souls of Black Folk, though, is Du Bois' haunting, eloquent description of the concept of the black psyche's "double consciousness," which he described as "a peculiar sensation.... One ever feels this twoness--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Thanks to W.E.B. Du Bois' commitment and foresight--and the intellectual excellence expressed in this timeless literary gem--black Americans can today look in the mirror and rejoice in their beautiful black, brown, and beige reflections. --Eugene Holley Jr.

Customer Reviews:

  • "An Element of Danger and Revolution"
    And so "education" should be, one of many great, though by no means unique, insights into the mind of mankind in W.E.B. Dubois's "Souls of Black Folk." I read this book after reading both the "Autobiography of Malcolm X" as well as Foner's "The Black Panther's Speak." Both of these books make allusion to Dubois, and in reading "Souls" I better understand the ideas and programs of Malcolm, Huey and Eldridge, their desire to be granted the same rights and privileges as all American citizens, and, where the white man continued to disallow it, their taking them "by any means necessary."

    Admittedly, I have very little experience with African-American culture. "The Souls of Black Folk" I think helps bridge this gap by exploring the history - economic, social and political - and pyschology of the African-American. I came away with a much better understanding of organizations like the Freeman's Relief Association, men like Booker T. Washington, African-American Christianity and, to a small extent, the psyche of the black man in America, at least its historical antecedents, up until the early 1900s.

    I have read reviews dismissing Dubois's work as outdated, especially after the '60s and the civil rights movement. Perhaps it is, though, again, I don't feel I know enough about African-American culture in our day to be able to say either way. Having said that, I am much better acquainted with other socially and economically constructed "niggers" of our world, both domestically and internationally, and in that regard I think Dubois's "Souls of Black Folk" is still very much applicable, in fact a complementary resource from which to glean insight into contemporary politics and economics. Perhaps, hopefully, there will one day be no more "niggers" on American soil. But, unfortunately, there will always be "niggers" in this world, and Dubois's lectures on removing "the great problem of the 20th century - the color line" are as important today as they were 100 years ago.

    From "Of the Sons of Master and Man":
    In any land, in any country under modern free competition, to lay any class of weak and despised people, be they white, black or blue, at the political mercy of their stronger, richer and more resourceful fellows, is a temptation which human nature seldom has withstood and seldom will withstand.

    Perhaps basic, perhaps something one has heard numerous times, but the fact that this citation and many, many others like it to be found in "The Souls of Black Folk" were written 100 years before guys like Ralph Nader and Howard Zinn were selling hundreds of thousands of books based on a slightly different spin of the same argument is at least relevant, if not impressive.

    Dubois was no racist, as any of the rest of the aforementioned group weren't either. If anything (and perhaps in this time this is a politically incorrect term) he was a classist, and merely argued for the assimilation of the black man into the society that did not understand their mutual dependence. Reading the book did not produce "white guilt" or anything the David Horwitzes of the world would like to convince me is happening to me. It provided me with a greater understanding and respect for people I daily ride the metro with, work with, am an American citizen WITH....more info

  • Speaks The Truth To Power
    In 1903, two years after Booker T. Washington's autobiography, "Up from Slavery", W.E.B. Du Bois published "The Souls of Black Folk", a series of essays which today most consider a seminal work in African-American Sociology literature. Du Bois view of race relations in American at the dawn of the 20th century was clear, critical and deeply profound.

    Throughout the fourteen chapters Du Bois uses a metaphor, the veil, with considerable deftness:
    "...the Negro...born with a veil...gifted with second sight...double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others."

    Du Bois shares his thoughts on Emancipation & the Post-Emancipation era, "...there was scarcely a white man in the South who did not honestly regard Emancipation as a crime and its practical nullification as a duty." In other chapters he covers: the education of the Negro, Negro suffrage, tenant farming, and Negro spirituals a.k.a Sorrow Songs. In the chapter, "Of the Black Belt", we take a journey with him as he travels through the Black Belt of Georgia - which is not a reference to the large number of people of color in the area but to the color of the soil. In "The Coming of John", the lone fictional chapter, Du Bois relates a short story of two Johns, one white and one Negro, both coming home to the South after attaining an education in the North.

    I could go on and on but this one relevant text that you must read for yourself. ...more info
  • Every American must read this!
    I read this book in a course on American intellectual history, and I must say that it was everything I'd expected it to be-- and more. From the death of his son to African-American spirituality, DuBois shows Americans what it meant to be an African-American. Anyone who wants to learn in African-American history should begin with this book....more info
  • Not what I expected.
    The ideologies in this book are not what I expected. I was disappointed by it. Dubois takes a more conciliatory stance regarding the plight of Black people in the US....more info
  • Great W.E.B .DUBOIS
    I love this book. It is part of the best of the works of the great W.E.B. DUBOIS. My active reading of this book expanded my knowledge more on what it takes to be a blackman in America. It is a piece of identification that everyblack person in America is looking to verify about their race in the U.S.
    It's a great book....more info
  • Timeless piece of work
  • Brilliant Essays on American Blacks
    W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) was the first black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. This fact alone doesn't really mean much in today's world; there are many firsts occurring at a rapid pace. But DuBois accomplished his feat when America subscribed to Jim Crow segregation and openly espoused racism. Moreover, DuBois went on to a spectacular career of stunning accomplishments-he was, by turns, a sociologist, a historian, a cultural critic, and an accomplished essayist. In "The Souls of Black Folk," DuBois wears all of these hats and a few more. Published in 1903, this collection of DuBois essays quickly became a cornerstone for future black progressives who wished to bring about changes in American society long promised since the days of the American Civil War. DuBois went on to help found the NAACP before disillusionment with the slow pace of change led him to leave the country. He died in Ghana in 1963.

    Every essay in this collection is an absolute jewel of intellectual prowess, eloquent and captivating language, and groundbreaking insight into the conditions of America's black population. Time and time again, DuBois calls it like he sees it and does so without malice or hysterical claims. DuBois's writings are the archetype of calm, reasoned analysis. His goal is not to divide but to expose, not to create divisions but understanding. He differs radically from current race hustlers such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whose only concern is creating a perpetual black underclass with them as self-anointed leaders. One of DuBois's essays actually take aim at a black leader who, during DuBois's time, harmed black progress. This man was Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, believer in vocational education for all blacks (at the expense of a classical education necessary in training teachers to staff vocational schools), and orator of the "Atlanta Compromise" which promised black acceptance of segregation.

    DuBois's concern in the essays rests with the concept of the "veil." This veil is a symbol for the ignorance of America towards the problems of blacks. The veil blocks insight into the problems, as well as preventing blacks from taking their place in American society as full American citizens. Until the veil is removed, argues DuBois in carefully constructed essay after essay, the continuing schism between the two races will grow wider and wider.

    Closely tied to the concept of the veil is that of "double consciousness," or the process by which blacks have two identities within one body. At times, blacks are Americans; they take part in working, fighting, and dying so America may reach its full potential. At other times, blacks are Africans lacking the rights white Americans enjoy on a daily basis. According to DuBois, American blacks are conscious of this dual identity and must always be careful about their actions in public. DuBois argues it is this "two-ness" that causes many problems in the life of the American black.

    Dubois knows travelogue as well. Two essays, "Of the Black Belt" and "Of the Quest of the Golden Fleece" examine the conditions of blacks in Dougherty County, Georgia. It is a sad tale of overwhelming debt, bleak futures, and segregated conditions. DuBois carefully examines the reasons for black failure in Georgia in these two chapters, discovering that the system is set up for black failure. Owning land is difficult for blacks, and the low literacy rate ensures that hustlers will cheat blacks out of money and crops. The extension of credit guarantees that blacks will continue to exist in a perpetual state of debt peonage. The need for education is great, says DuBois, as learning will allow blacks to push for greater gains in society while allowing poor blacks to understand their plight in relation to the rest of the country.

    Education is a major theme in many of the essays. DuBois himself received a classical education and it shows on every page of this book. References to Greece and Rome vie with extensive religious themes. These references not only show that a black can benefit from education, but also shows how education will provide a common ground between black and white. However, DuBois does not believe every black should receive a classical education. He recognizes many are not up to the task (as many whites are not, either), but a "talented tenth" could receive this type of education. These blacks will then go out and spread education and culture within the black community.

    The essays build up to the phenomenal "Of the Coming of John," a short story incorporating almost every theme DuBois expresses throughout the book. This short story relates the tale of John, a poor Georgia black traveling north for an education. At first, John fails to fit in due to poor discipline and lack of interest. When faced with expulsion, John reaches inside himself and succeeds beyond expectations. He learns history, language, and mathematics while growing into manhood. When he finally goes out into the world, he runs smack into the veil; John is ejected from a classical music concert in New York because he is black, and when he goes home, both blacks and whites are wary of his cynical views about southern conditions. John takes a job as a teacher, but quickly loses the job when local whites feel threatened by the subjects he teaches. The story ends on a depressing note without resolving any of the problems John encounters as an educated black man in the American South.

    This is an important American text, required reading for anyone interested in race relations and intellectual history. DuBois never saw the struggle for civil rights in the 1960's or its continuing legacy to this day. This book explains the underpinnings of that movement. Through intellectual examination, elegant prose, and an unswerving belief in what is right and wrong, DuBois's contributions continue to resonate in the present....more info

  • DuBois' enduring "Souls"
    First published in 1903, "The Souls of Black Folk," by W.E.B. DuBois, is a book that still shines with power and relevance. A collection of essays and narrative pieces on the African-American experience, "Souls" is a brilliant blend of history, political science, and memoir, all written in a compelling literary style.

    DuBois is intensely concerned with the situation of African-Americans, but "Souls" also shows flashes of the global vision that would develop throughout his intellectual career. In this book he introduces such key concepts as "the Veil" and "double-consciousness"; although these terms are explored within the African-American context, I believe they are relevant with regard to other groups that are marginalized on the basis of difference.

    DuBois incisively criticizes the racism that plagued America after the end of slavery. Particularly fascinating is his iconoclastic critique of controversial Black leader Booker T. Washington, whom DuBois saw as too willing to compromise with a white racist establishment. There is a strong concern with economic issues in "Souls"; DuBois condemns a heartless capitalism which turns human beings into mere commodities, and considers how the "slavery of debt" replaced literal slavery for many Blacks. One of the best sections of the book is his apparently autobiographical account of teaching in a rural Black school in Tennessee.

    Dubois' literary style is worthy of note: elegant and learned, direct and passionate. He makes many classical and literary references. DuBois' ideas make him, in my opinion, a figure who links the radical United States essayists of the 19th century (David Walker, Henry David Thoreau, etc.) with those of the mid- and late 20th century (James Baldwin, Thomas Merton, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, etc.). "The Souls of Black Folk" is an essential classic, and a great read....more info

  • Nate's Mom
    I purchased Souls for an assignment; it arrived quickly and is quite the page turner. At $2.50, this book will be far more valuable to my son (in 10 years or so). I would have preferred hard cover to ensure greater preservation. Its uncanny the similarities with Du Bois and your new president. This should be recommended reading in every American school especially since you are about to experience history in the making. ...more info
  • Sharon Tate
    This is the most ensightful review I have come in contact with, it help me to decide if I wanted the book. Once I rad the reviews and a little into the readings there was no doubt in my mind that I had to have this piece of literature. This is something that I want to instill in my children,glad to know there is so much insight into what people have to say whether it be positive or negative. Thanx everyone for so much insight....more info
  • The Soul Of All Folk:
    "The Soul Of Black Folk" Is a book I think everyone should read regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, color, or creed simply because there's something in it for all. W.E.B. Dubois' engaging book falls more inline with the panorama of all American experiences, not just the Black experiences alone: if that makes any sense?
    This fine book was originally published in 1903 and is still a significant piece of literature today. The anecdotes that are shared in this book belong in the lexicon of American history, but what's most striking are Dubois' references to Negro music called the sorrow songs, which of course spanned through hundreds of years of sanguineous slavery. And it was these same songs that set the foundation of Gospel, the Blues, Rock n Roll, and the American dream.
    The reason I'm using this terminology is because in-spite of the torture blacks suffered they still managed to sing amazing songs such as "Steal Away," and "Poor Rosy." (Some songs were in reference to allegorical content).
    Furthermore, the British rock-band Led Zeppelin is a fine example of individual intellectualism insofar as embracing American Negro culture considering they were influenced by this book because in 1968, Led Zeppelin's first album debuted and not only did they cover blues favorites written by Willie Dixon, but they also covered Negro spirituals, which Du Bois referred to as the "Sorrow Songs."
    Led Zeppelin's song "How Many More Times" is an opus of Negro "Sorrow Songs." It's amazing that it took the bluesy cadence of an English rock band to pay homage to the very people whose hardship and strife inspired them to borrow the lyrics and the music from this book. It's a wonderful sight to see when people like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant take the time to learn about Black Americanism and about themselves. It just goes to show that all Americans should embrace their African heritage because without acknowledging the Black experience it's impossible to be a true American.
    It's upsetting to note that in today's America racism is so rampant that the subject of Rock n Roll history can't even be encroached upon like it was in the 1960's civil rights movement, due to the fact that the political language has significantly changed.
    (In layman's terms we can't be honest with ourselves and discuss the sheer fact that racism still dictates our everyday lives simply because the corporate world creates the phony left/right paradigm and ad-hominems through the media, which leaves America with an erroneous history).
    Anyway, music played a major role during the 1960's. It helped people prosper through the horrific struggle for independence. The poetry that the slaves introduced over two-hundred years ago would yet again set the recalcitrant atmosphere that was needed when Blacks won the right to vote in 1965. And it was that moment in history that systemic change began. It was almost like an ancestral eidolon cascading over America with the strength and perseverance of a god in love with his people.

    Moreover, Dubois elaborates on many subject matter with a linguistic style coming across as the perfect salubrious prolepsis for today's readers.

    Sorry to digress, but another high point in the book was Dubois' rebuttal to Booker T. Washington's bourgeois attitude. Even today many Black scholars quote Booker T, but the inquiry that wise? Well, according to Dubois, promulgating Booker T's message was rather pernicious and would only lead to more draconian virulence. Booker T's stance on waiting for White America to become simpatico to the needs of the Negro, while hoping for acceptance to proliferate from them in due time was not realistic at all.
    Dubois strongly felt that Booker T's ideas were a depravity, a mummery, and an insult. Waiting for the bully to stop picking on you never works; for some reason Booker T couldn't contemplate that this scenario he was promulgating was ambiguous. If the powers that be are unwilling to negotiate with you then you have no other recourse but recalcitrancy. Booker T was in favor of slow progression, but just imagine what America would be like if Blacks took on Booker T's mindset? Life would be very different that's for sure.
    Dubois hits on many touching moments in his memoirs and the personal lives of his students, which everyone reading this will enjoy. "The Soul Of Black Folk" is required reading for all. Give this book a chance! Dubois' writings are an inspirational experience!
    ...more info
  • The initial stages of a pragmatic view
    Over the years, numerable attempts to categorize THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK have been undertaken by scholars. For many it is considered a classical work of literary genius; others classify it as a seminal effort of sociological research. More than a few view it as a visionary historical document while there are those who consider it merely a book time has superceded. I do not know where to situate it in the literary spectrum and frankly where it resides is not particularly important. I do know it endures as salient commentary on the conditions of race relations (at least the black/white dichotomy) from the time of emancipation to the postmodern Jim Crow policies of the new millennium.

    At the time of its publication in 1903, the re-United States was only forty years removed from the disorganized and disjunctive manumission of nearly 10 million blacks. *Plessy v. Ferguson*, establishing the doctrine of "separate but equal," had been decreed only seven years prior. In practicality, mechanisms to assist in the absorption of blacks into larger society were non-existent and in most quarters, no longer under contemplation. The collection of essays in this book represent Dubois' thinking at the time in regard to the challenges confronting Black and White America, a litany of encumbrances that have undergone modification over the past century but failing to recede to reminiscence. Dubois was a unapologetic elitist, an intellectual on par with the best of white society who was convinced logic and reason would tap the social conscience of the white "Talented Tenth," compelling that class to adopt what he viewed as the most efficacious strategy to approach the country's "Negro problem." He saw a duality of accountability for both cause and resolution, however he also believed it was incumbent that the most talented from both races assume the reins of leadership to pull/propel to action the less astute masses. He was optimistic, but he was in error. Then, as arguably is the case now, the majority of white society, including the intellectually gifted, was unwilling to assume any culpability for the status of the disaffected black. Conventional wisdom of the era indicated the "Negro problem" could be circumvented simply by implementation of tragically short-sighted, monolithic programs. The idealistic, but fundamentally flawed, philosophy of Booker T. Washington, an example of one of the earliest emanations of the principle of black absolution of presumptive white guilt, was less disturbing to white sensibilities and demanded far fewer altruistic considerations. Conversely, aspects of Dubois' philosophy represent an incipient variation of "victimization" although at this juncture he was not (nor did he ever become) parenthetically opposed to all precepts of Washington's ideology. He objected to the implied affimation of, and compliance with, perpetual underclass treatment.

    In ensuing years, Dubois' philosophy grew more Afrocentric, substantially closer to the legacy he passed on to the activists of the 1950s and 1960s. THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK is one tile of the mozaic W.E.B. Dubois now embodies. I rate the book 4 stars because it must be viewed in the context of his total bibliography. On independent analysis alone, the true picture Dr. Dubois is obscured....more info